One of the largest U.S. child product manufacturers must pay $10 million to settle claims that it did not act quickly enough to pull dangerous child safety seats from shelves once it knew they were defective.
At issue was a faulty buckle installed on some 4 million child car seats manufactured by Graco.
Previously, the company insisted the only problem with the buckle was the result of small children spilling drinks or food on them. But this so-called “contamination causation” was written off as an excuse by federal regulators, who noted even if it was true, it was clearly foreseeable.
The buckle reportedly seized up in some cases after a crash, and parents and emergency responders reported having to cut the straps in order to free children. This led to an increased risk of injury and, reportedly in at least one case, a fatality when a child could not be freed fast enough from a burning vehicle.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration insisted the company issue a recall in January 2014. However, the company refused. It did ultimately give in a month later, amid heightened pressure.
A federal investigation was then launched to determine whether the company should have initiated action on the problem sooner. As it turns out, parents were contacting the company as early as 2009 about the defective buckles. But rather than take these claims seriously, regulators report, the firm simply instructed parents on how best to clean the buckles. It insisted there was no safety problem.
Even after the company issued a recall for some 4.2 million toddler seats in February 2014, federal regulator shot back, asking why the firm didn’t include infant car seats with the same type of buckle. Further, officials accused the firm of “soft-pedaling” the recall by issuing statements to consumers that included misleading and incomplete information.
Finally, the company issued a second recall for infant car seats – nearly 2 million of them – last July.
Federal law compels manufacturers to notify regulators of safety problems within five days. A company must also in that time lay out a plan for a recall, or else face a civil fine.
Violations of this provision carry a maximum $35 million fine.
In this case, the actual fine is only $3 million, while the remaining $7 million is earmarked for the furtherance of internal safety development programs. Those programs have to involve improving the current product registration and notification program, so parents can more easily and quickly be informed if they have a defective child seat.
Secretary for the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a statement saying parents need to be able to trust their children are safe and that, when there is a problem, manufacturers will act fast to notify them and address the problem.
Meanwhile, federal regulators themselves have come under fire for seemingly giving break after break to auto manufacturers that drag their feet in notifying consumers of defective vehicles – sometimes for years. From faulty airbags to defective ignition switches and sticky gas pedals – 2014 had the most vehicle recalls of any year in history.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Graco to Pay $10 Million for Delay in Recall of Defective Child Seats, March 20, 2015, By Christopher Jensen, The New York Times
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